The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society (2018) (Review)

The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society may have the most ridiculous film title going but the resulting picture is a rather charming affair indeed. Adapted from the historical novel of the same name by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows concerning the Nazi invasion of the Channel Island, the silver screen-positioned and Infinity War counter-programming flick is directed by Mike Newell and stars Lily James in her second World War-based film this year alone.

When Nazis stop and threaten a group out after hours in Guernsey, a book club society is born to excuse their broken curfew. When writer Juliet Ashton (James) learns of their story, she heads for the once-occupied Channel Island to learn of the people who were forced to live with their enemies during the World War 2. Co-starring Michiel Huisman, Glen Powell, Jessica Brown Findlay, Katherine Parkinson, Matthew Goode, Tom Courtenay and Penelope WiltonThe Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society is exactly the film you expect it to be.

Reminiscent of last year's Their Finest (although not quite as wonderful), Guernsey Literary (please don't make me type out the whole thing every time) is as unapologetically British as these period dramas get. It's twee and glossy almost to a fault, pretty formulaic in its structure and rather predictable at times -- but that doesn't mean it isn't effective. It's successful in providing an enjoyable slice of teary melodrama destined to wind up as a television staple at some stage down the line, and will no doubt please its target audience and warm some hearts along the way.

It mainly succeeds on the back of Lily James' magnetic lead performance. As reliably fantastic as ever, James is poised and generous with her performance as Juliet. She oozes emotion, character and heart, instantly likeable if slightly undone by an unfocused script.  Another stand-out is Katherine Parkinson: more renown for her comedic performances and characters, this is a little more on the serious side for Parkinson, but she balances Isola's loneliness with excellent comedic timing effectively, responsible for many of the film's most enjoyable, lighter moments. Michiel Huisman is strong too. Across the board really, the performances are solid and help prop the film up during the most sickly sentimental moments.

Although its name suggests otherwise, Potato Peel Pie Society is actually mainly filmed in Devon. Despite the swindle, Newell finds a beauty and love for the stand-in, with luscious, sweeping shots and a gorgeous colour palette so very easy on the eye. On the whole, the direction is serviceable; while being about 20-30 minutes on the long side, the film travels well enough to its foreseeable conclusion.

It is the screenplay where most of the dramatic deficiencies lie. While you'd be foolish to hope for it in retrospect, you find yourself desperate for something grittier: it's a very polished, almost sanitised, piece of cinema. It sidelines the occupation and dramatic sensibilities for romantic musings and the love triangle that emerges, placing its focus on the less engaging aspect of the narrative. Mark Kermode summed it up fantastically: "it would go down lovely with a cup of tea", which tells you everything about this film you need to know.

Cosy and coy but a little more calculated than hoped, The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society is charming enough and will appeal to exactly who it needs to appeal to. There's enjoyment to be had and it's elevated by some fine performances across the board, as well as some picture postcard visuals -- but the script's misframing of the narrative makes it less sturdy than ideal. It's been a day or two and it is already beginning to fade from my memory but it was nice and frothy while it lasted and maybe I'll come to revisit the Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society sometime down the line, maybe even smiling throughout.


Summary: Despite having the most ridiculously long and silly title going, The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society is an enjoyably charming little film with a misframed narrative that dilutes the solid ensemble performances and postcard-perfect visuals somewhat.